Tuesday, August 25, 2009


There's been much discussion about the AWP and its rejection of good panels. What we have here is I think not something as immoral as anti-women or anti-foreigner or anti-black, but simply the remnant of the anti-intellectualism of baby-boomer quietism of the 1970s. The AWP committee's idea of what people want to see in a panel is simply outdated and anti-intellectual. Mediocrity does not equal populism, but that still seems like a guiding paradigm at the AWP.

This makes me think about award given out by one of Sweden's biggest daily papers, Aftonbladet. In 2008 it was given to Johan Jonson for his massive (794 pages long) political investigation, Efter Arbetsschema. What is perhaps interesting about this award is that if you look at the jury, it consists of writers in their 20s and 30s - Viktor Johansson, Hanna Hallgren, Jenny Tunedal etc. I can't imagine 1. USA Today or NY Times giving out an annual literary award. 2. Giving it out to poetry. 3. Using a jury of young experimental (for lack of better word) writers. Maybe it's going on somewhere, but I haven't noticed it. I'm not saying this is a perfect model (awards never are); I'm just thinking about how impossible this seems in the US, AWP model.


Blogger Kent Johnson said...

On the AWP, I don't know what their selection process is like, or what criteria they use. But it's interesting that they turned down a panel for the 2010 conference on Roberto Bolano's poetry, on which I'd been asked to participate, to speak about the fraught history between RB and his compatriot, the great poet Raul Zurita. The weird thing is that one of the other panelists was Laura Healy, the translator of RB's poetry, gathered last year in Romantic Dogs, from New Directions.

Wouldn't you think that the AWP would like to have a panel on the most widely and wildly discussed novelist of the past years, one whose fiction is so often about poetry and poets? A panel on which his English-language translator is scheduled to participate? How does one explain that they wouldn't?

Oh well.


8:03 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, I would say it's mediocrity and anti-intellectualism.


8:33 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Why don't people put together and publicize "alternate panels" taking place at the same time, and the same city, as AWP?

4:30 PM  
Blogger Ryan Downey said...

I am going to be on a panel and many days I would agree that I am mediocre. I do think that our panel is discussing work that is not mediocre, however. Also, I do recognize that a great many panels that ought to happen got squashed. I don't see our specific panel (on writing workshops in correctional facilities and shelters) as anti-intellectual or outdated (though I do see the DOC as outdated and to put it bluntly fucked). I do wonder why there are 3-4 panels on writing workshops in correctional facilities though (to be fair there are also a number of panels about things like fellowships-can people not do their own research). At some point we are just in love with our own anecdotes (isn't that what the book fair is for). I would attend alternative off-site panels.

The business model for AWP is just that.

I intend to host off-site alternative "panels" in any number of drinking establishments. I will call them conversations (though I doubt they are useful on a cv). Also, after a certain amount of drinks I doubt they will contain actual words.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggesting a bunch of writers and academics could produce a schedule that is anti-intellectual is a bit of a contradiction. Of course, they may disagree with you about what a quality intellectual panel looks like. Perhaps your idea of intellectualism is a little more mediocre than you think it is. I don't know about the Bolano panel, but this doesn't seem like the only high quality panel they rejected. It does seem anti-intellectual to suggest a rejection is purely a notice of poor quality. Could other factors be involved? I wonder if you've even looked at their schedule of events for 2010: http://www.awpwriter.org/conference/2010sched.php

p.s. People have been putting together and publicizing "alternate panels," or what they refer to as offsite panels, for years now. I think I went to my first one in NY.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Not every panel is mediocre. I've been on some good panels at AWP. But largely they go for a kind of panel that I don't particularly like.

Having said that, I've been on plenty of panels (some good ones too) at the AWP. And in fact I'm going to be on a panel at this upcoming AWP - about writers who grew up in other cultures/languages and such.

I like your point about the alternative panels being in the conversations, because that's always what I've felt was the most fun part of the whole thing.


5:46 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

OK, Thomas, it was a hastily written statement - "mediocre" etc - and perhaps someone can do a better job defining the general direction of the AWP. But mostly that is how a lot of the panels have struck me in the past. As kind of half-assed. I"m not in favor of turning the AWP into some kind of academic conference, but I do think they could be a bit more interesting (this is again of course my point of view). And I'm aware of a lot of very interesting panels being turned down; that's exactly what prompted this entry. Thanks for managing to insult me too. That's nice.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Johannes -

Maybe "whitebread" is a more fitting descriptor?

4:25 PM  

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